- St Albans looks past this month’s Energizer plant closing
by Hilary Niles September 3, 2013 vtdigger.org About 70 workers remain at the Energizer plant in St Albans Town, and regional planners are wondering what will become of the property once battery and flashlight manufacturing operations are disassembled by the end of the year.Energizer announced in November 2012 that it would close the plant on Swanton Road, along with two others in Missouri and Malaysia, as part of a 10 percent global workforce reduction. Operations in North Carolina, Canada and China also were downsized. Production in St. Albans will cease by the end of September.Of the 100 employees who already have moved on, many have found local jobs, according to Tim Smith, executive director of the Franklin County Industrial Development Corp. Expansions at Mylan Technologies, the St. Albans Cooperative Creamery and Perrigo Nutritionals have helped absorb some of the displaced workers, he said.While the Energizer displacement tells the story of manufacturing’s shifting foothold in Vermont, it also highlights Franklin County’s resolve to grow through industry. Once empty, the Energizer plant, which reportedly opened in 1947, will join the ranks of at least 15 industrial parks looking for tenants.GoalsSmith emphasizes that industrial development ‘isn’t an overnight venture.’In 2010, the development corporation completed the first phase of what could be a 20-year undertaking: establishing an eight-lot industrial park in St. Albans Town. The $93 million build-out, financed through the Vermont Economic Development Authority, set in place infrastructure for five of the eight parcels.‘The ideal scenario is manufacturing or technology operations,’ Smith said. He’s hoping to land one tenant, on average, every two to three years. There aren’t any serious inquiries yet, he said.Whether or not the pending vacancy at Energizer will throw a wrench in FCIDC’s plans remains to be seen. It hardly would be the only parcel potentially competing for tenants. Other industrial site development projects are underway, at varying stages of development or completion, in Enosburg, Highgate, Richford and Swanton.And the Energizer plant’s role in the market will depend on what the company intends to do with the property. Lawrence Miller, secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, said his office is engaged in ongoing talks with Energizer’s real estate representatives to gauge whether and how the company will divest itself of the St. Albans land and facilities.Meanwhile, St. Albans City appears to be gearing up for a renaissance, largely orchestrated around a tax increment financing district approved in 2012.On Sept. 10, residents will vote on a proposed bond to build a new parking garage to service a state office building that might move downtown. If that goes through, medical patch-maker Mylan Technologies might take over the current state office building. Brownfield remediations are underway at two former manufacturing sites, and a downtown streetscape renovation, years in the making, will be celebrated Thursday evening.Mayor Liz Gamache said many of the city’s development plans can stand alone, but industrial growth in surrounding St. Albans Town and the rest of Franklin County can help the city exceed the sum of its parts.‘Right now we have tremendous opportunity in Franklin County to develop economically,’ Gamache said. She highlighted the area’s geography ‘ on the outskirts of Burlington and on the way to Montreal ‘ as one major advantage.Energizer’s closing in St. Albans has been blamed largely on consumer technology choices: More all-in-one devices and rechargeable batteries have reduced demand for AAA lithium batteries, the conventional wisdom goes. The plant had brought on more workers in 2004 precisely to make those batteries, in addition to handheld flashlights.But foreign trade also played a part. The U.S. Department of Labor certified a petition for Trade Adjustment Assistance in February, acknowledging that the Energizer workers were displaced at least in part because of the company’s shift to foreign production or suppliers.A similar determination was made two years earlier in the wake of a layoff at Vermont Transformers Inc. And another TAA investigation is underway following IBM’s summer layoff in Essex Junction. Elsewhere in the state, 13 layoffs have been certified through the trade adjustment act since 2010.Within Franklin County, the population faces its own hurdles.St. Albans City has the county’s highest crime rate, according to 2010 data from the state’s division of criminal justice services within the Department of Public Safety. With an average 89.39 offenses per 1,000 people, the rate far exceeds averages of 36.28 in the surrounding St. Albans Town, 44.78 in Swanton to the north, and still lower rates between roughly 18 and 25 in other neighboring communities.U.S. Census data show that, like many other parts of Vermont, the poverty rate in Franklin County hovers in the low teens ‘ not as high as Lamoille and Orleans counties, but certainly higher than in Grand Isle and Chittenden counties, which round out Franklin’s borders. Franklin County also ranks low in educational attainment, particularly beyond high school, according to a 2012 publication from the Lumina Foundation.State economists pointed out in July meetings with the Legislature, however, that manufacturing is trending more and more high-tech and increasingly requires a workforce with higher levels of expertise.Miller compares the dichotomy to one faced by New York City years ago.‘Many of the strategies that worked there are what community planners and economic development professionals here are working toward,’ Miller said. ‘Setting standards for livability and community conduct, and making resources available for people who need to get to a better place in their life.’In conjunction with the Agency of Human Services’ presence in St. Albans, Miller said the hope is for downtown revitalization to create an anchor on which other development can follow.‘You give people something to be proud of in their community. You get the positive momentum, see job growth, see people moving from having the wrong kind of free time to good employment and civic engagement, and you do it bit by bit and person by person,’ he said.And, planners might hope, industrial park by industrial park.PHOTO: Vermont Business Magazine, August 2013
- City Paper: Mendelson Dismisses Silverman’s Bill on School Reopening
During a press conference Monday, Ferebee laid out the District’s plans for reopening classrooms in 29 school buildings, known as Canvas Academics and Real Engagement, or CARES classrooms. Up to 600 elementary schools students will attend virtual classes from inside a school building five days a week starting Wednesday, Nov. 18. DCPS staff will supervise students and patient care technicians will oversee temperature checks and symptom screenings. Teachers will not lead instruction in school buildings. Silverman’s bill would have barred schools from reopening more than two classrooms in a school building. It also demanded that the mayor submit a reopening plan to the Council at least three weeks before students and staff would return to campuses. The plan was to include a list of medical and teaching staffs, a description of how students are chosen for in-person learning, and, among other details, a letter from “all the labor organizations representing workers in DCPS schools, demonstrating agreement with all aspect of the re-opening plan.” “That’s why we need more discussion, not less,” she says. I’m already a member! Silverman said the bill is meant, in part, to foster more conversation about transparency around school reopening. She said some councilmembers expressed interest in the bill, though none signed on as co-sponsors. She needs nine votes to pass emergency legislation. Davis says that on Friday, Ferebee told her the new plan for opening in-person classrooms this week included one occupied classroom at 35 different buildings. By Monday, Ferebee announced 29 buildings will open, some with capacity for up to five classrooms. Councilmembers would have a three-day window to object to the mayor’s plan, and if none did, the Council could approve the plan by a simple majority. Support independent journalism “I’m not interested in spending an hour fixing a bill,” Mendelson said. He cautioned that the Council’s role in public education is best carried out through oversight, not legislation. WTU President Elizabeth Davis supports Silverman’s bill and chided Mendelson’s obstruction in a phone interview. “It’s like a plane that’s being built as they’re flying it,” Davis says in response. “There’s no definitive information about anything.” At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman introduced an emergency bill last week that would have given the D.C. Council and the unions representing school employees significant power in determining when it’s safe to reopen DC Public Schools for in-person instruction. But, as is his prerogative, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson did not include the bill on the agenda for Tuesday’s legislative meeting. He said during a press conference Monday that the bill contained more than a few half-baked provisions. DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee does not support the bill, which Silverman introduced following Mayor Muriel Bowser‘s initial failed attempt to reopen schools for thousands of students by Nov. 9. Reopening plans fell apart when negotiations with the Washington Teachers Union fell through, the Washington Post reported. “I am questioning his leadership right now,” Davis says. “Questioning whether he might be out of step with what it means to have oversight. I believe he has given far too much authority to agency leaders, and particularly DCPS’ chancellor.” We started the year with 302 members. When the pandemic came, our readers stepped up. Our goal is to end the year with 1,800. Will you join them? “We don’t believe that the legislation that was put forth is a smart way to address the reopening of our schools,” Ferebee said Monday as he announced his plan to bring up to 600 elementary students into school buildings this week. “We believe that we have done the due diligence with health and safety, and we have collaborated with our union partners along with our school communities.” The administration’s plan to allow up to five reopened classrooms would have conflicted with a provision in Silverman’s bill. A memo from Silverman’s office circulated last week said the administration’s plan complied with her proposed bill. That’s because Silverman says she, like Davis, was initially told buildings would host one classroom, not up to five. 1,472 paying members.